Have you participated in a brainstorming session that felt like wasted time? For some reason no new and interesting ideas were formed? Perhaps you need to get rid of your old ideas first! Gis van Wulfen explains.

Innovation is all about getting new ideas for simple solutions to solve relevant customer problems or needs. When there is a sudden need for innovation the first thing people do is organise a brainstorming session. But often nothing innovative materialises. That’s why brainstorming has such negative connotations in a lot of companies. Because, when you brainstorm unprepared with the usual colleagues hardly anything new appears.

And you think the problem is not getting new ideas. But you are wrong. The problem is to get rid of the old ones! I love this quotation of the America businessman Dee Hock:

The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.

Once you get the old ideas out of your mind, new ones come automatically!

That’s why it is essential to get rid of the old ideas, before you start creating new ones. This is the essence of step two of the FORTH innovation method: Observe and Learn. In this step there are four ways to get rid of old ideas by getting new insights:

1. Explore trends

By exploring trends yourself, you will realise the world changes fast. Trends produce inspiration for new insights. So study new concepts or business models based on these trends. And see how offerings in all kinds of markets change. The market trends derived in this way can provide excellent insights.

2. Explore technology

Technological developments also serve as a wonderful source of inspiration. Good insight into technological development can be found world wide and for specific fields. You will find technological resources in your own country as well, such as Technical Universities, research centres linked to the government or research organisations linked to larger technological groups such as Google, Philips, Siemens or Vodafone. So, get into contact with market leaders such as Microsoft, IBM or Cap Gemini or other companies who are involved in the ‘best practice’ in the timely anticipation of new technology. And find out that the way you have been doing things will become obsolete soon.

3. Explore Opportunities

During the FORTH kick-off workshop, the innovation team selects opportunities and concrete sources of inspiration are brainstormed. Each team member will contact the selected source of inspiration and visited them in order to explore the opportunity. In this way he/she searches for ‘best practices’ of different companies as well as valuable practical experience gained by others. It is very important that each team member waits with his or her judgement and to make sure they do. The moment one starts to judge you stop discovering and you go back to the paved and smooth roads of old ideas.

4. Explore Customer Frictions

Meeting customers in person and discovering customer’s frictions are the most effective sources of inspiration when it comes to get rid of old ideas. This has also been my experience with FORTH innovation projects over the past years. A customer’s friction is a (re) discovered relevant need, urge or wish from a specific target group in a recognisable situation, which is not sufficiently satisfied and which you can use as a relevant basis for a new distinctive product concept.

There are several ways to discover customer’s frictions:

  • Personal visits. The purpose is to get people of your company from behind their desks and to immerse them into the market through personal contact with real customers.
  • Focus groups. Discovering customer’s frictions in focus groups is very effective. We usually invite six to eight people for the focus group in a place where there are good facilities for the innovation team to be able to join in. You try to discover:
    • What do you want, what keeps you busy or what do you find important?
    • With what are you struggling? What have you come up against?
  • Web search and crowd sourcing. The web is full of social networks, forums and discussion groups. It is amazing how many people share their experiences, frustrations, wishes and ideas on the web. By becoming member of those networks you really get access to inside information. And the positive aspect of it is that you discover yourself! One of the tools you might use is crowd sourcing.

So by exploring an ideation team gets rid of their old ideas and gains relevant new market, customer and technological insights. This will create a solid foundation for getting new fresh ideas!

You can download two checklists for the Observe & Learn phase. I wish you a lot of success in your efforts to get rid of your old ideas. Remember: there are no old roads to new solutions.

By Gijs van Wulfen

About the author:

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).

He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.

Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.